September 30, 2009
The airplane was slowly descending. They no longer told us to lower the window shade as they used to. I looked down at the familiar landscape of fields and streams around the airport. Far away toward the downtown area of the city, something gray like smog or a fog was hovering, and the freeway was lined with bare trees on both sides.
As I left the gate, I saw him. He’d been pacing, and he raised his hand high when he saw me.
“Mr. Oh, here!”
“Kun! It’s been too long!”
I hugged him tightly. Then I began to study his face. There were many strands of white hair from his temples to almost the top of his head, and many little lines around his eyes. I had seen Kun briefly at the detention cell, then we were separated. He finished his sentence and was released a few years before me. He was probably five or six years younger than me. I had escaped from Kwangju, but he took up arms as part of a civilian militia. Later, he was arrested for his underground activities. If he had been captured earlier at the state capital, Kun would have led a much easier life. Kun found me at my hiding place in the slums two days after the last crackdown at the state capital. His cheeks were hollow and his face haggard; he was wearing a shirt stained with dirt; he grimaced and burst into tears as he tried to hold on to us. Sang Woon is dead. Young Joon insisted I get out first, later I saw he was gone, he got shot just once. Ah, we would never be able to embrace each other again as we did that dawn. About one week later, the comrades who’d somehow flown from that city gathered, then spread out again, each looking for his own hole. Some people openly ignored us, some gave us a little money and begged us to go someplace else. Some accepted us as family and hid us.
“It’s an old car. Someone gave me this.”
Still a little proud of his car, Kun chattered on as he put on the seatbelt.
“You wanna go to the inn first?”
“No, let’s go to Nam Soo.”
Instead of taking the highway downtown, Kun half-turned the wheel.
“I’m going to take another way around. It’s so congested.”
“It has changed so much, hasn’t it?”
“It’s busier than the old Seoul. Every country bumpkin bought a car, it’s swarming with cars.”
“Is your sense of direction a little bit better now?”
We laughed together. It must have been better, since we avoided the traffic and drove around downtown. Soon we reached a quiet part of the town near the Mang Wal Cemetery. He stopped the car near the Moo Dung Mountain.
“You sit here and wait. I’ll go get some flowers.”
In one corner of the three-way road was a flower shop. I followed Kun out of the car. Pushing the glass door we entered the shop. I felt instantly better when I breathed in the fragrance of fresh flowers and moist, warm air. There were roses, gypsophilas, which had become common but since when I did not know, carnations, and different shades of mums. Kun was nodding his head, counting something in his mind. He bought different flowers and prepared four bouquets.
“Why are you buying so many?”
“Once you begin, there’s no end. Just think of those you were really close to, how many there are.”
I remained quiet and did as Kun suggested, and stood and walked behind him. The temperature had not dropped, but the wind was cold. We climbed the overhanging hill on the way up the mountain.
“Those up here, they’re non-institutional, and down there are institutional. Even the graveyard is divided into two.”
Muttering under his breath, Kun climbed and found Nam Soo at once. Someone had brought him flowers, wilting away in a glass liquor bottle. Kun murmured as if he was talking to someone standing next to him.
“Hey, good to see you. I brought Mr. Hyun Woo today. You guys have a lot of catching up to do.”
There was a little mound covered with dry grass shivering in the winter wind. So . . . how are you, I said without opening my mouth. I could see Nam Soo’s tanned face breaking into a wide grin.